How to Handle Guests With Colic

crybaby You check your property at the end of a rental and find some damage. First of all you decide if you'll accept it as normal wear and tear and simply fix it; put it down to experience and add the renters to your blacklist, or whether you will make a claim on the damage deposit. The judgement call is yours and for many owners it's not a big deal; it's part of the risk of the vacation rental business, and the occasional disappointment is balanced against the majority of great renters they have had.  For some though, even the slightest infraction of the rules of departure assumes monumental proportions, creates lots of stress and can result in some nasty correspondence and threats of legal action.

There's often a clue there will be an problem, and that's where the renters call you on the morning they are leaving to tell you about a ‘few issues' they had. We experienced this last Sunday with a group of 30-somethings at the cottage.  The call was to ‘let you know there was a leak in the roof and we've had to put some towels down to soak up the water, and by the way, there was hair in the bathtub so we couldn't use it all weekend, and all had to use the other bathroom'.

OK – the leak's a nuisance. It happened last year in a thaw and we had contractors in to fix it in the spring.  There's been no leak since when it rains, so we thought it had been fixed, but there's some ice damming around the eaves troughs which has obviously caused the problem.  I don't understand about the hair in the bath though!  I cleaned the place after our last guests and usually pay particular attention to bathrooms, so I'm not sure how I missed that, but to decide it was not usable seems a bit odd.  We do have a note in our guest book that asks them to let us know if there are any problems, within the first 24 hours, to give us a chance to rectify, but they obviously decided to take the path of least resistance and boycott the offending tub.

Or….they know we are going to be mightily upset about the state they have left the place and are creating their case in advance.  This is what we call a COLIC situation – Check Out List Ignored Completely.  The griping complaints are just the precursor to the undoubted mess we will find when we get down there.

So, it was with great trepidation we made our way to the cottage on Sunday after checkout. And yes, the place had not been left as we ask in our checkout list. In fact the list had not been read at all.  We ask that the heating is turned down – it was as high as it could go; the temperature on the hot tub should be reduced – it was not; the place was generally a mess.  Just a bunch of little stuff but showing little respect for our Terms and Conditions.

When I started out, this situation would have caused a significantly different reaction to the one I have now. I've learnt over the years to take the rough with the smooth; to appreciate my repeat guests who always leave the cottage spotless and write lovely things in the guest book, and to accept there is a new generation of people who have never learnt to tidy up after themselves or follow instructions, however gently and politely they are put.

Image by Addrox


Hi Heather,

I have found that guests that take the time to write a few comments in my cottage guest book tend to leave the cottage a little cleaner at the end of their stay than those guests that don’t. Maybe this is because when they read the guest book during their stay, they realize that previous guests appreciated arriving at a clean cottage and that they have a role to play in order to ensure that the cleanliness standard is maintained.

I also agree different renters will clean the cottage at the end of their stay to a different standard.

I have a sliding scale system that I use when I inspect the cottage after my renters have checked-out. A 10 on this scale means that I can not tell whether there was anybody staying at the cottage. A 1 on this scale indicates that it does not look like the renters did any cleaning before checking out. I have found through experience that most rental groups fall somewhere between a 6 and a 9.

When I find that a rental group starts scoring a 5 and below during my post-rental walk through, I start taking steps to document the unacceptable conditions that I find within the cottage. I take photographs that show my areas of concern and start to keep track of the time it takes me to return the cottage to an acceptable standard. I determine a reasonable hourly wage for the time I spend cleaning the cottage and then forward this information to my cottage rental company. They can then apply my cleaning and damage charges against the renter’s security and cleaning deposit that they collected during the cottage booking process.

We might not be able to do much to influence the “new generation of people who never learnt to tidy up after themselves” but as my mother would say, “they are never going to learn any younger”.

Heather Bayer

Some great points here Glenn. You are right about the guest book too.


Love the “Colic” acronym for this condition Heather – it would certainly leave me manifesting bouts of “uncontrollable, extended crying”too, if I were an owner on site and saw the state our second home is sometimes left in! I wonder what this year’s guests will be like? The usual mix of rough with smooth I guess!

Jennifer Jilks

I love the COLIC acronym, too, Heather. Thanks for educating us all.

I have decided not to rent this year. It was just too frustrating for me. With bigger and bigger machines, and noisy, disrespectful renters, it spoils the beauty of Muskoka.

Jennifer Jilks’s last blog post..renting your cottage

Heather Bayer

@ Jennifer – so sorry that it got too much for you. I’m really surprised because I hear so rarely of problems with renters. They are usually very respectful. Will you be at the Cottage Life Show? If so, stop by our booth and say hello.


We’ve always dreamed of owning a cottage, and yes, dreams do come true! In order to off set some of the reno’s we had to do (that’s another story on contractors in the Muskoka’s) we rented out the cottage last summer/fall and have already booked for this coming summer. The guest book is filled with wonderful words and shared memories. All but 1 (they were an 8, so not bad) left the cottage just as clean as I had left it. They all washed and folded the towels, sheets, vaccumed and washed the floors. Watered the poted plants – it’s a joy to rent! Why??? I left the place spotless, put fresh flowers in almost every room, left a good bottle of white and red wine, a wooden muskoka game for the kids to take home, a list of events happining, places to eat (some menu’s from the local eateries), a hand written welcome note and yes, a list of how things work. The whole basket of goodies, $150. A small price to pay not to have to clean myself. It works everytime! Efforts are returned in kind 🙂


Folks, this is long so bear with me. My husband, son and I spent 2.5 years bringing a unbelievably damaged piece of property in a rural area a couple of miles from our home back from the grave. Not wanting to be involved in renting the house out on a permanent basis, we decided to turn it into a vacation rental cottage because there is absolutely no place to stay within our county. We furnished all bedrooms with beautiful antique beds which we refinished ourselves. The living room furniture , consisting of a couch, two matching chairs and ottoman, was not new but in very good condition. We furnished it with high end linens, new dishes, silverware, glassware and pots and pans. It has a full size kitchen with nice clean major appliances and all new small appliances, i.e. microwave,toaster, mixer, coffee maker, etc. We left enough laundry detergent (enough to do 32 loads) to last through several guests, as well as paper products, kleenex tissues, crayons & coloring book for the children, freezer pops for the kids and a basket with shower jell, lotion and soap for the ladies. We furnished a Continental breakfast the first morning (muffins, juice, milk) and enough coffee makings (90 cups) for their entire stay. A picnic basket with tablecloth, paper plates, plastic cups, plastic silverware, S & P, aluminum foil and paper towels was left for their use. I left printed instructions inserted in a clear sheet protector for the operation of TV, DVD player, gas grill, washer & dryer, etc. in places appropriate., as well as a nicely framed set of the cottage guidelines in an easel on one of the end tables. We placed a decorative flag with the word Welcome beside the front steps, a 4′ sign over the entryway that read, “Welcome to our porch” and a door mat that read “Welcome”. Inside were two documents (guidelines & item locations) that said “Welcome To Our Cottage”. Three phone numbers where we could be reached were supplied. The entire place was pristine condition when we finished. I walked on the hard surface floors with white socks to make sure. We left a guest survey to be filled out, asking if they felt welcome upon arrival, were beds comfortable, was facility clean, linen supply ample, were you afforded privacy, was price comparable, are you likely to return or recommend to others. Each question could be ranked 1-4, with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent.

Well we got our very first guests last week. They were six in the party and they reserved the cottage for two weeks. One week was paid in advance and the other week was to be paid at the beginning of the second week. Someone else paid for their first week and they were responsible for the second. They could not give an ETA …just that they would be in sometime during the night so greeting them personally was not an option. I did, however, have the breakfast basket laid out and I left a light on in each bedroom, three lamps in the living room and the front porch light on so they would not have to stumble around in the dark. The walkway is lighted with landscape lights. We still don’t know what time they arrived but two cars were setting in the drive the next day. Figuring they might have arrived very late and might be sleeping, I did not stop. Over the course of the next three days I made 7 trips to the cottage to see if they needed anything. On the third full day of their stay we went out of town for a brief 12 hour period to see our daughter who lives 700 miles from us but was , that day, working only a couple of hours away from us. I called the gentleman (their relative) with whom I had made the initial arrangements and advised him of our intention and who to call in the event something were needed during our absence. We returned home at 3:00 am and when we went by the cottage every single light in the house was on and all the blinds were raised in a haphazard manner. I had observed the state of the blinds from the first day of their arrival. The following morning I went to the cottage in another attempt to meet them and see if they needed anything and when might be a convenient time for us to mow. I was met with extreme rudeness. At that point I didn’t bother to ask about the mowing; I decided we would do it when it was convenient for us, not them. I noticed that every light in the house was still on and I could see 2 ceiling fans running full blast. I very nicely asked if they would mind lowering the blinds when they expected to be away from the cottage for extended periods of time so the afternoon heat would not be so hard on the HVAC system. I was met with a hostile stare. Our printed guidelines requested that they turn off all appliances, as well as the TV and leave no more than one inside and one outside light on when leaving the cottage for extended periods.

We went back late that afternoon to mow and they were gone. Three of the blinds had been lowered, but 5 remained open and it was obvious that the ones that had been lowered had been done in a fit of anger for they were every which way. From the bay window every room in the house is visible. There were 14 inside lights on, two outside lights and the TV. It took 2 hours to mow and during that time I observed that the HVAC never shut off. I was surprised because it normally cycles on about once every twenty minutes and runs for no more than 4-5 minutes before shutting down again.

They were paid through Saturday night and the second week’s rent was due Sunday. The fellow who had made the initial arrangements said he would call me on Sunday and go over there with me to get the remainer of the rent. I heard from no one. I went by a couple of times and no one was present. Having known the man who made the initial arrangements for many years I knew him to be an honest man so I wasn’t especially worried. I was livid, however, when he called me to tell me they had left and wouldn’t be returning. He wasn’t aware they had scammed me out of a night’s rent and offered to pay. I refused because he had lived up to his end of the bargain and it wasn’t his fault.

When I went to the cottage I found the following: Half the blinds were still up at a crazy angle. Both the front and back porch lights were burning, as well as the bathroom light. Every lamp in the house was unplugged. The living room rug was shoved over and rolled up and folded back at one end with the ottoman setting on top of it. Opened containers of food was left in the refrigerator and freezer. French fries, chocolate, dirt and coffee grounds were all over the kitchen floor. Dryer sheets were scattered about the laundry room floor. The sheets, pillow cases, and brand new mattress pads had been stripped off the beds, along with the deocrative pillow shams and stuffed in the clothes sorter in the bathroom closet. (I had asked that they remove only the sheets and pillow slips). The Boston rocker from one of the bedrooms was shoved into the closet and the plastic tote containing Christmas decorations for the cottage, which was stored in that closet was in the bathroom setting on top of the air vent. The HVAC system was set at 50 degrees and the unit was frozen solid. Two antique starched and ironed tea towels that were hung on the antique pitcher and bowl stand (decorative purposes only) had been used and were wadded up and thrown in the china bowl. The lace swags in one bedroom were shoved over and bunched up to one side on the curtain rods. There are large black marks on two walls in one bedroom where they shoved something (probably suitcases) in between the antique wardrobe and the wall. If they hadn’t put the Boston rocker in the closet they would have had plenty of space in the closet for their suitcases. They somehow knocked a blank receptacle cover off the wall in that room, as well. They used the entire 32 load bottle of laundry detergent and emptied the 90 cup can of coffee (talk about a caffene high). They spilled something on the couch and, in an attempt to hide it, they flipped the cushion over, zipper side out, and stained the couch platform. They failed to empty the kitchen trash can but….but….worse than anything else was the bathroom. The commode was spattered with waste (bowl, lid, seat ) and yes, there was even a small amount of waste on the floor. The bathroom is a pale blue and half of the towels (actually they are bath sheets) are solid blue and the other half solid white. All washcloths were white. I had specifically asked in the printed Washer/Dryer instructions that they wash blues and whites separately to avoid color transfer and unsightly linting. They had placed the used towels in the tub as requested and without even picking them up it was obvious what they had done. The white towels were covered with blue balls and the blue towels were covered with white balls……but where were the white wash cloths? Oh yes, they were buried under the mountainous load of towels, and almost every single one of them had been used as toilet paper……not just a swipe, folks, they were covered from end to end with human waste and the stench was horrible. Needless to say, a bunch of very expensive towels and wash cloths had to be thrown away after only one set of guests.

As to the guest survey…..They gave us a 3 ranking on every single thing except amenities which they ranked at 2, and privacy, which actually garnered a 4. When the survey is averaged, it equates to only 75% satisfaction. There was a section to list deficiencies and another to offer suggestions so that we might improve. Under deficiencies they wrote, “wasp nest over kitchen window”…..the windows were cleaned just hours before their arrival and there was no wasp nest, there was a barn swallow nest containing eggs, above the bay window and I was perfectly aware of it. I would never think of breaking up a nest during nesting season, especially a swallow’s nest because the swallows eat many times their weight in mosquitoes each day. Part of the charm of our rural cottage is the varied and abundant wildlife. They wrote, “more than one key needed”. That is my failure. They also wrote, “Thank you for the muffins but with six people a basket doesn’t last long, NOR does TP & paper towels”, yet the one time I asked if anything was needed I was told “No.” Regardless, I had left another double pack of toilet tissue between the door and storm door on one of my visits and it was still there, unused.

Suggestions for improvements: They wrote “colored flag to fly on porch that shows supplies are needed.” That is a great suggestion, provided the host lives adjacent or across the road from the cottage. Otherwise, how many trips per day would be required to see if the flag was flying? Wouldn’t a simple phone call to any one of the three numbers provided be more effective? Now this one really bent me out of shape…”No Propane Available”. There was a brand new unused tank of propane on the grill. It had been turned on one time the day before their arrival to ascertain the grill was working properly. Here is a copy and paste from the Gas Grill Operation instructions…..

To light gas grill, rotate knob on propane tank ½-1 full turn to the left. They didn’t have the gas turned on : (

Soooooo, there you have it folks….my first experience as a rental cottage owner. If I thought all guests would be like this, I’d lock the doors and never reopen them.

I have to bear part of the burden myself. In an attempt to maintain a casual and homelike atmosphere I didn’t require a rental agreement, nor did I charge a damage or cleaning deposit. Additionally, as I had known their relative for >40 years, and these, were after all, my first guests, I cut the rate from $85/night + tax, for two people to $400/week + 0 tax for four adults and 2 children. Live and learn. We now have a whole new set of rules.

I’ll be glad to send pics to anyone who wants to see them so you can judge for yourself whether our accomodations are worthy.


I just read my posting and realized that when I mentioned the number of trips I made to the cottage to see if our guests needed anything, it sounded as if I were constantly bugging them. What I failed to state was that on each of those occasions I found no one there.

I also failed to make it clear that I received the call on Monday informing me they were gone.

    Heather Bayer

    Oh Lora! What a dreadful first rental experience for you. This is the worst case scenario though, and it’s unlikely you will have guests like this again. So..what can you learn from it? Having a rental agreement with a set of Terms and Conditions, collecting all rental payments up front with a clear cancellation policy, and holding a damage deposit are the first things I think of. Although it’s not as casual as you would like, it puts the arrangement on a professional level and tells whoever is organising the rental that it’s a ‘business’ contract, and they know what their responsibilities are. When I’ve had friends or family at my cottage, I have told them our insurance policy requires us to have a signed agreement – that justifies the formality.

    Your property sounds lovely and you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into making it an attractive and appealing vacation spot, so this must feel really bad for you at the moment. Although there is little you can do about the disrespect shown by your ‘guests’, when you are able to think about it objectively, consider it a learning experience and move on from there. It can only get better!

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